When I hear sweeping, romantic songs from the ’60s like “When a Man Loves a Woman” or “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” I picture riding seaside in a cherry-red convertible or leaning up on a jukebox while some stupid smooth boy condescendingly calls me “his doll” and brushes a lock of hair from my forehead. I’m quickly pulled from this mental bubble by a Tinder notification from some internet dummy requesting to see a digital photograph of “my tits.”
Now, I’m not saying that one of these scenarios is any better than the other, really. Newly navigating personal and relational growth in any capacity, in any time period, is weird as hell. I’m sure I’d feel the same level of frustration if Chet didn’t ring my house phone to ask me to the sock hop as I would if Dyllon didn’t like my tweet and Snap me a request to “chill.” What I mean is that sometimes we hear the sounds and songs of the past, and while we enjoy or romanticize them, we often have trouble relating to them. That’s probably a good thing; it means we’re progressing. But I often wish I could listen to dreamy sounds similar to those of the past, presented in ways that apply to my life as a 2016 Millennial Youth™. Julia Jacklin’s debut album Don’t Let The Kids Win answered that call.
With a much heavier indie rock and alt-country influence than either genre, Jacklin conjures up the hot, slow burn of a ’60s soul ballad and the folk-rock punch of ’70s artists like Fleetwood Mac. The plodding basslines on “Pool Party” and spacious, building strums of “Motherland” and her controlled, yet heedless voice refer to these influences and strike the same lofty chords, but are still the unmistakably modern sounds of an up-and-coming indie rocker.
Jacklin isn’t the first to successfully or recently reinvent these sounds. At times, her sound’s akin to artists like Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten and many others. But it has an unwound uniqueness that proves her first album can stand alone among similar music—it’s got it’s own brand of youth, quirks, honesty.
Don’t let Jacklin’s youth or relaxed, playful sound fool you; she’s wise as hell. What does a spritely 25-year old know about the weight of our limited existence? It turns out a lot. Jacklin makes this apparent throughout the whole album, but particularly on the title track “Don’t Let The Kids Win.” She outlines hard lessons, the experiential pitfalls of growing older, tidbits of advice to her past self: “Don’t let your grandmother die, while you’re away. A cheap trip to Thailand’s not gonna make up for never getting to say goodbye.” But explains the sinking feeling that growing up just goes along with the territory of being alive: “And I’ve got a feeling that this won’t ever change. We’re gonna keep on getting older; it’s gonna keep on feeling strange.” Perhaps people start getting used to the perils of age and time as they get older, but the first few times you get a blow to your cherished, misguided sense of immortality and realize that time will be an unstoppable, massive force throughout the rest of your existence are a doozy.
Another challenge of growing up is finding new sources of explanation. After hearing a million grand cliches over and over, there hits a point where we derive more significance from the silly, unique trains of thought that we ride into a land of meaning. A highlight track “Small Talk” dazely starts with Jacklin hypothesizing Zach Braff being her dad: “Zach Braff, you look just like my dad, back when I thought I had the best one. Oh, what a life it could have been, me in the cradle you on the screen. But you’re too young to be a father to me.” Each verse is a daydream; what if this unlikely person were my dad/mom/lover? Each verse is followed by a chorus justifying why her imagined situation is impossible: “But you’re too old/young to be a father/mother/lover to me.” It’s a strange way for Jacklin to lightly position herself in the grand scheme of relative time and age, but echoes a weighty thought most of us have: how are our relationships to others controlled by something as uncontrollable as time? It’s an unfiltered feed of stream-of-conscious scenarios that are specific, yet somehow relatable to anyone who’s derived meaning from the goofy, arbitrary thoughts that run through their brain.
This album’s filled with strange lyrical truth balanced with a nuanced musical talent that doesn’t take itself too seriously. You’d think her honesty on the complex narratives of growing up today would be heavy, but Jacklin presents it with the easy clarity of a Sunday drive. Maybe one day I’ll get my seaside cruise in that cherry-red convertible, but Don’t Let The Kids Win will surely make a better travel buddy than any kiss-slinging goon in the passenger seat.